American Bedu’s interviews have been a popular subject of interest on the blog. This is a candid interview with Iman, a woman, who does not hold back on her experiences and feelings. She continues to go through a state of flux as she processes these experiences and changes in her life. American Bedu thanks her profusely for her forwardness and asks that all who read this interview show sensitivity and respect to someone who has come forward and given us a rare gift of such frank openness on subjects that typically remain closed and silent.
You call your blog ”A time for me to talk”, and yourself a ”free Saudi woman”. How did you feel about growing up in Saudi Arabia?
My feelings about growing up in Saudi are quite mixed and quite confusing to be honest with you. It was not my choice to live, go to school or grow up in Saudi. Like many, my family moved there and thus so did I. Looking back at it all now, and especially now that I am living my life the way I want it and that I am years removed from that life, my anger is not as intense and neither is my fear. Had you asked me this same question a few years back I would probably have said that it was a life of terror and a pure taste of hell. I would still describe my life there as an experience I would not want to subject myself to ever again and certainly would not wish it upon any other human being none the less a growing child.
You come from a polygamous marriage, do you think polygamy makes for a stable relationship between your mother and father, and between you and your father? Would you want to be in a polygamous marriage yourself? Did you have half siblings and if so, did you have a good relationship to them? Did you consider polygamy for yourself?
Yes, my father married another woman, while he was married to my mother, when I was 16 years old. “Stable” is not a word I would place within a 100 meters of the word Polygamy. It is almost funny to call it “polygamy” since I never even knew what that meant till I moved to Canada. I thought that it was every man’s God given right to marry as many women as he pleased and divorce as many as he pleased regardless.
I cannot speak for anyone but myself and I can only comment and reflect on my own experiences but when my father married his second wife, he did not seek our approval nor did he care what we had to say. We, being my mother myself and my brother.
He did what the norm called for in a country like Saudi, and that was to do what he wanted and how he wanted to do it. Respecting my mother and my wishes was unheard of. I recall him telling me “If you or anybody stands in my way I will crush you.” He said this to me after my mother left to Egypt and I was having a hard time accepting this new life I was being forced into with another woman living in my house.
So, after my mother left to go live in Egypt and a good 10 years into their marriage, my dad and his new wife had 2 girls whom I love dearly and sadly have not seen in over 3-4 years. I am told they do not remember me. They just know they have a sister in Canada called Iman.
It is ironic you should ask if I would want to be in a polygamist marriage. I was married once before to a Saudi man who went and married his first cousin as a second wife 2 months into our own marriage. Needless to say, that ended up in divorce and thankfully I was in Canada at the time, so it was not as hard, though he did do his best to make it that way.
Did it bother you that you were not allowed as much freedom as a man? or did you think this was natural and reasonable?
I never understood why my brother could do certain things, like travel abroad alone, while I was prohibited from the same. Mother always tried to explain things to me but they just never made any sense. That, unfortunately, only harboured anger, hate and resentment on my part. I saw it as preferential treatment from my parents. Then I started seeing the bigger picture as I grew older. I saw that the entire society I lived in preferred man to woman. Men had power over women. Women depended on men for so many things it was actually quite alarming.
Silly little things I could not do without a man. I felt like a shadow of a human. I was crippled by a society that seemed to hate women and kept us on a tight leash. Why? I would always ask and the answers were so disappointing and so full of crap.
Of course, this just added insult to injury as I grew into an angry young woman who hated who she was, where she lived and everything around here. I became obsessed with everything my society prohibited me to do.
I drove cars, I dated boys, I drank, had sex, did drugs, traveled alone and uncovered my hair and face in public. You name it …I did it.
So, is it natural or reasonable to suppress one gender while empowering the other? My answer is no. People quote the Quran, God, the prophet, this and that but these are manmade rules and regulations.
No divine power or spirit would request or allow such an imbalance of life and the general insult to humanity that Saudi Arabia has managed to set as a rule and claimed it to be the way of God.
Spending your youth in Saudi Arabia, do you think you had a good childhood?
Depends on what good means I guess. I lived in a 4 level Villa with 4 nannies and a driver. We had a new car in our garage every 6 months or so and it usually was a top of the line make and model. We traveled to Europe, Asia and the states every year.
I made money, and lots of it, once I started working and I went shopping almost every day.
I always wore the best clothes and the most expensive jewellery and makeup. I went to parties, the best schools and then became a doctor.
On the opposite side of things, I was abused on a daily basis (mostly physically, mentally and emotionally) by mother, father, and brother and eventually step mother. I was forced into medical school. I feared going out because I might get captured by the religious police for doing this, that or the other…or for just being female. I got harassed by sex driven men every single time I went out.
I had to reside with the fact that I most likely will never get married because I was a doctor and had to do night shifts at the hospital (which apparently only meant I was sleeping with men.)
Then I had to deal with living the double life that almost every other Saudi lives. Praying in front of other, fasting, mentioning God 10000 times in my speech and then going home talking to boys on the phone and going out to mixed parties…etc.
It was quite the conflicting life! Enough to leave the greatest of minds puzzled.
Have you ever been confronted by the religious police?
My confrontations with the religious police were endless. I was captured by them twice, both times ended with me being kidnapped and thrown in jail. The best place to read about my encounters with them would be my blog http://www.xsaudi.blogspot.com/
We have heard many stories of Saudi youth managing to meet up even given the strict rules of segregation. Did you ever attempt such an adventure?
Oh yes, I certainly did. Just like my friends did and their friends did. I recall going to parties at different embassies in the diplomatic quarter. These parties were on a Hollywood scale it was almost surreal. Women and men, alcohol, music and dancing…it was a nice good refreshing break I was able to get every now and then from the intense rigid and fixed lifestyle rules I had to live with back then.
I think I had a new boyfriend every one year or so and yes, I went out with them on secret dates. The adrenaline rush, the danger and the thrill of it all was so much worth it back then. Had I known then what I know now, I would have changed many of my immature actions that eventually lead me to a catastrophic event.
You got a scholarship to study in Canada, were you excited or apprehensive to go to a foreign country alone and on your own? Did you still cover in the Saudi Abaya and veil?
Ever since I can remember it was a dream of mine to study abroad and adapt the western lifestyle. I would stand in front my bedroom mirror and go through all these amazing scenarios of what I would do during my travels to Canada and what I would say when I met certain people or encountered a specific situation. I would even go and get my wardrobe out and change my clothes according to the imaginary situation I was living. I was so young and my dreams were so big.
Since I had no choice in my medical career I made sure I chose the one medical specialty that would have guaranteed me a scholarship to Canada. Anaesthesia it was!
I applied for my scholarship and worked hard to pass all the Canadian evaluating exams and I did. 2 years later, I was granted to the approval. Sadly, at that point the catastrophe I was referring to earlier had occurred and though it seemed that my dreams were never going to come true, they eventually did.
While on your scholarship you were assaulted by another Saudi Student. How did the Canadian authorities treat you and your case? What was the punishment for the assaulter. Did the hospital where you worked offer you counseling? What happened to the Saudi man? What was the response from the Saudi authorities to this assault regarding you and the perpetrator?
Did your family support you?
This tragedy is what led me to eventually abandon medicine. During my second year of Anesthesia residency training I was sexually assaulted by another – Saudi- Anesthesia resident during a resident retreat gathering. I knew this person from the hospital that sponsored us for the scholarship program back in Saudi. We were Anesthesia residents there as well.
The actual attack took place in a cottage – where the retreat was being held. It was the winter of 2004…it was a day I will never be able to forget. Once it happened, he informed me that he had planned it. I stayed in shock for weeks.
It was a good month before I spoke of it to my department members. I was called into a meeting with the program director and told that I had to go to the police. When I said no, they presumed it was all a big lie and simply ignored me.
I should probably explain why I refused to go to the police at the time. As many people would support the argument that if I was indeed assaulted in such a manner then I would not have thought twice about going to the Canadian authorities.
Back then, I was a Saudi who was only here on a work permit for my scholarship. I was fully funded by the Saudis and thus they controlled every move I made. Not sure how much people know about Saudi but to keep it simple I can tell you women have no rights there. I actually do not even know how I ended up getting a scholarship?!
Women are ordered by law to cover from head to toe in order not to attract men. If men harass us anywhere or in any shape or form we are punished by going to jail or getting lashed. Women in Saudi are not allowed to drive a car, travel on their own without a male guardian or permission from one. We are not allowed to enter government offices, and the time we had no I.D even.
So, knowing all that and having been in trouble with the Saudi authorities in the past I was fully aware of what the outcome would be if they got news of what was going on. I knew that without a second though my scholarship and funding would both be terminated and that I would be ordered to return to Saudi…shamed.
Meanwhile, and while I was trying to digest my assault and what action to take next. The Anesthesia program director ignored all my requests of not to be scheduled with the guy who attacked me. I became isolated and people avoided me because I was simply a trouble maker and a liar.
My attacker continued to corner me and harass me whenever he got the chance at work and I became the boy who cried wolf.
This went on for another 3 years during which my mental status deteriorated significantly to the point where I was making serious errors at work. My supervisors at work hated me. They were harsh and failed me rotation after rotation. They gave me awful evaluations and no one ever asked why? And are you ok?
In 2007 I went on an extended leave and finally reported my case to the police because I had simply failed to thrive in life. I also wrote a detailed letter to the head of the Saudi Bureau in Ottawa explaining exactly what happened with dates and times. Two weeks later I got a letter of termination from the Saudi Bureau where they told me that I had to return my scholarship money back to them (200,000) and that my funding will be stopped.
And here we are today 2010…my case against the hospital, my attacker and the Saudi bureau remain opened and in limbo in between the human rights commission and the police.
My family offered nothing to me in the form of support. I do not think they believe me and if they did they just do not care. After all, I am a whore…
You still reside in Canada, are you planning to return to Saudi Arabia?
Though life is hard right now, yes, I do live in Canada with absolutely no plans to ever go to Saudi for any reason. I have actually looked into renouncing my Saudi citizenship but, far be it from a country like Saudi to give its citizens the right to do something like that.
You are now married and have children, as your husband is not Saudi they will not be eligible for Saudi citizenship, does that bother you? Do you want your children to visit Saudi Arabia?
I do not think my husband would want the Saudi citizenship. Nor would we want it for our children. We are all Canadians, free and have full rights. Why would I give that up for the nightmare of Saudi citizenship where they govern everything you do from how you dress to who you marry and what religion and nationality everyone has to be?!
You have been very resilient and very courageous dealing with many troubles. You are also very courageous in sharing your story with the world. Would you consider writing a book?
I crossed paths here with a documentary producer who was very interested in my story for both a T.V documentary as well as a book. Sadly, funding fell through and we parted ways. But to answer your question, yes. I wrote my blog to simply tell my story and share it with those who think they are alone. I would always welcome an opportunity to further address the injustice that was practiced on me and is being practiced still on many other Saudis.
Have you been getting responses from Saudis on your blog? And did they support you or denounce you? If you have been threatened, do you worry about it?
I have had a little bit of both actually. I have made some good friends through my blog and I have made some enemies. I recall one comment saying “Now I know where all the Saudi trash ends up…in Canada”.
I lived a good 28 years of my life being threatened, suppressed and mortified, not any more.
Are you in contact with your family in Saudi Arabia at this time?
I hear from them once every 3 years or so. Usually it is either an insult or something they need. I wish them well though.
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